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Gamechanger For U.S. Navy Against China: New Anti-Ship Missile Dramatically Boosts Firepower

The U.S. Navy harbors many secrets that must be kept from America’s enemies, like where its submarines are operating or how it exploits intelligence from reconnaissance satellites. Some secrets, though, are hiding in plain sight. For instance, do you realize that many of the Navy’s surface combatants—its frigates, destroyers and cruisers—have almost no ability to engage hostile warships?

Unless you follow naval matters closely, you probably wouldn’t know that. There was a time when defeating enemy warships was the top mission of America’s surface combatants. But missions were rearranged with the coming of air power and submarines utilizing nuclear propulsion, so defense of the fleet against overhead and undersea threats came to dominate designs. Once the Red Navy disappeared from the world’s oceans, anti-ship capabilities became an afterthought.

Now the threat posed by hostile warships is back, driven mainly by China’s rise in the Western Pacific. If the U.S. Navy wants to preserve its dominant role in the region, it will need to rebuild its ability to deter and defeat hostile naval forces. And given the pace at which Beijing is modernizing its military, the solution to this challenge has to reach the fleet fast.

There appears to be only one solution with the necessary range, lethality and survivability. It is called the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM (“luh-razzim”). The missile is derived from an Air Force munition called the Joint Air-To-Surface Standoff Missile that in its extended-range version can reach 580 miles, and is so stealthy it is nearly impossible to detect—much less shoot down.

A Long Range Anti-Ship Missile launches from an Air Force B-1 bomber during flight testing. This is probably the last moment that a defender would know where the missile was, because (unlike the bomber) it is nearly impossible to track using radar or infrared sensors.

Working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Navy has evolved a maritime version of the Air Force missile that can be fired from carrier-based aircraft, from launch tubes already installed on most U.S. surface combatants, and potentially by Marines ashore. It can even be launched from angled cannisters retrofitted onto a diverse array of warships such as amphibious vessels


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